The origin of the smart city imaginary

From the dawn of modernity to the eclipse of reason

Authored by: Federico Cugurullo

The Routledge Companion to Urban Imaginaries

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138058880
eBook ISBN: 9781315163956
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter unpacks the imaginary of the smart city, taking the reader on a journey that, across time and space, explores the intellectual foundations of the key ideas, images, and visions underpinning the theory and practice of smart urbanism. Starting from Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, the chapter examines the origins of the synergy between technological development and urban development, which today characterizes the smart city phenomenon. The same thematic thread is then followed through the history of the city, with an emphasis on Modernism, when technological innovation begun to be deeply embedded in city-making. By connecting the philosophy of Nietzsche to the work of Expressionist architects and Futurist artists, the chapter emphasizes the stark individualism permeating the spirit of modernity. The chapter then discusses the cases of Los Angeles and Singapore, as the first incarnations of the computer city and the intelligent city, respectively. Finally, current smart city initiatives are critiqued through the lens of Max Horkheimer’s critical theory. More specifically, the chapter draws upon Eclipse of Reason, to argue that the recent dreams of smart urbanism are but a rerun of traditional capitalistic ambitions which, masked by the promise of technological progress, target the interests of elites, and neglect the progress of society and the preservation of the natural environment.

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